The past is never dead. It’s not even past. – William Faulkner
Many people mistake trauma to be what happens during “the incident”; however, trauma is what begins after the experience of adverse event. It is the imprint that event left on the mind and sensations of the survivor… the discomfort, agitation, rage, feelings of powerlessness/helplessness the victim has to deal with. Unlike simple stress, trauma changes the victims’ view of life in its entirety and of themselves. It shatters the most basic assumptions about the self and the world, views like – “Life is good,” “I’m safe,” “People are kind,” “I can trust others,” “The future is likely to be good” – and replaces them with feelings like “The world is dangerous,” “I can’t win,” “I can’t trust other people,” or “There’s no hope.” When people carry the scars of trauma, it’s often an invisible wound that takes time to heal. As the quote from William Faulkner implies, people who survive trauma may feel they are living with the wounds every day.
Trauma includes a wide range of situations where people are physically threatened, hurt or violated, or when they witness others in these situations. This includes such experiences as childhood physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, witnessing domestic violence, serious accidents, natural disasters, physical torture, riots, shootings, knifings, being threatened with a weapon, rape, harassment, combat, house fire, life-threatening illness, and death of someone close, especially sudden death.
The impact of living through traumatic events, especially multiple events over the course of a lifetime, can result in a range of behavioral health problems other than post-traumatic stress disorder, including substance abuse, depression, anxiety problems, addiction problems, etc. The growing knowledge base about how trauma affects people is now being used to inform changes in policy and practice to ensure that individuals and institutions, especially health and mental health institutions, support recovery and don’t inadvertently hurt people. The goal is to not only provide tools to cope with extreme situations but to create an underlying culture of respect and support.
Becoming “trauma-informed” means recognizing that people often have many different types of trauma in their lives. People who have been traumatized need support and understanding from those around them. Understanding the impact of trauma is an important first step in becoming a compassionate and supportive community.
Below are reasons why we should be trauma-informed:
We all know someone in this place:
Research shows that sexual victimization is more common than we think. It is also almost equally prevalent in men as in women. The statistics are sobering. High percentages of people carry reactions to trauma.
Trauma, in general, comes in many forms. While everyone has a different reaction to trauma, the consequences can last a life time. The low self-esteem and difficulty in coping is the start of more serious consequences that can lead to justice involvement or at minimum a life lived with scars.
If we assume most people experience trauma, it’s easier to understand their behavior.
Compassion generates helpfulness, not judgement:
It’s common to react to negative behavior with equal negativity. It seems to be automatic – someone pulls in front of your car and you lay on the horn. Things can spiral out from there. Being compassionate changes everything.
The lack of judgement and the willingness to be supportive and extend help to someone who might be in pain can bring relief.
- A young woman who had been raped was at the school police station to press charges but was scared to go through the reporting process. She was worried there’d be suspicion that the charges were false. Fortunately, the officer in charge brought her some water and gave her enough time to calm down, talked with her and got her comfortable enough to go through with the process.
Simple acts of compassion can provide relief from trauma
Kindness generates change:
Research tells us that experiencing traumatic life events can affect the way people learn, plan, and interact with others. Providing human services to individuals who have experienced trauma calls for an approach that takes into consideration their trauma histories. When people receive Trauma-Informed Care they often testify about the impact people’s kindness had in making their situations turn from bad to good. Trauma-informed care is an approach to engaging people with histories of trauma that recognize the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role that trauma has played in their lives. Trauma-informed services are designed specifically to avoid retraumatizing those who come seeking assistance as well as staff working in service settings. These services seek “safety first” and commit themselves to “do no harm.” Here are two examples of the impact of kindness:
- A man was pulled over for a traffic violation. He was in acute distress, didn’t trust the officer and was ready to fight. The officer’s courteous behavior so impressed him he agreed to the services he needed. He called the officer a professional, not a policeman.
- A young woman whose teacher was really supportive of her during her rape case at the police. The officers in charge really listened with understanding, so instead of violating her or dismissing her case, they took her seriously and her case was brought to a satisfactory resolution.
Kindness changed these people’s beliefs about service professionals from uncaring to positive resolution.
Trust and kindness makes a world of difference.
Trauma-informed interventions enlighten people and systems:
In all the examples above, the people involved were helped by those with an understanding that trauma can be debilitating. By offering compassion and helpful alternatives, they created positive outcomes. A person’s understanding about the impact of trauma can make a huge difference in times of distress or crisis.
Enlightenment happens when Individuals move from judging to compassion.
Whether you have experienced trauma or not, expanding your own capacity for kindness and compassion can generate profound changes.